Murder suspect's mental state being reviewed

At issue is ability to face the death penalty

Murder victim Isabella Grogan-Cannella

Murder victim Isabella Grogan-Cannella

KINGMAN - The man accused of murdering a Bullhead City girl in September is already undergoing mental health evaluations to determine if he is competent to stand trial, but state law regarding the death penalty requires all defendants facing the ultimate punishment to be prescreened by mental health professionals.

With this in mind, prosecutors with the Mohave County Attorney's Office filed court papers Friday that ask Judge Lee Jantzen to appoint an expert to make a prescreening determination of Justin James Rector's intelligence quotient, his competency to stand trial and his sanity at the time he allegedly strangled 8-year-old Bella Grogan-Cannella and buried her partially clad body in a shallow grave.

The results of the evaluations will determine if Rector, 26, remains eligible for the death penalty if convicted of the girl's murder or if he instead is eligible for a sentence of life or natural life.

Rector has the option of refusing the prescreening evaluation, but if he fails to submit to the testing he will automatically be eligible for the death penalty, according to Arizona Revised Statutes.

Prosecutor Greg McPhillips in court papers said doctors have already assessed Rector's IQ and are currently determining his competency, the only remaining evaluation regards his sanity at the time of the alleged offense. Judge Lee Jantzen ordered the competency exams on Nov. 5 at the request of Rector's attorney, Mohave County Public Defender Harry Moore. The results of those evaluations will be heard at a hearing Dec. 3.

Rector is reportedly a heavy methamphetamine user who was allegedly under the influence of the street drug the day Grogan-Cannella disappeared from her Bullhead City home sometime after midnight on Sept. 3.

Moore had not filed a response to McPhillips' request by late Monday afternoon.

Rector has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, kidnapping and other charges.

The girl's mother, stepfather and step-grandmother were later arrested and charged with a number of crimes related to trafficking in meth.